If a Tree Falls: A Fam­i­ly’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard

By – August 30, 2011

The plight of the deaf in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty has prob­a­bly received less atten­tion than that of the blind, and cer­tain­ly, these days, of the autis­tic. In this beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten mem­oir, Jen­nifer Ros­ner shares her shock and despair after dis­cov­er­ing that both her daugh­ters have been born deaf, and how those sen­ti­ments grew into accep­tance and deep­er love. 

What com­pli­cates her path and that of her fam­i­ly is that unlike blind­ness, deal­ing with deaf­ness has become politi­cized” — with con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing the choice of hear­ing aids, cochlear implants, and sign lan­guage. Ros­ner also must cope with her moth­er, whose van­i­ty and remote­ness actu­al­ly cov­er up hear­ing loss. She dis­cov­ers a multi­gen­er­a­tional his­to­ry of deaf­ness in her fam­i­ly, going back to East­ern Europe, and imag­ines (in what I think are the book’s weak­er moments) how her ances­tors coped with their isolation. 

The author’s fears of being unable to com­mu­ni­cate with her daugh­ters, give them oppor­tu­ni­ties to social­ize, and pro­tect them in a world often indif­fer­ent or cru­el will touch any par­ent strug­gling to find com­mon ground with a chal­lenged child. Make that, any par­ent, period.

Bar­bara Train­in Blank is a free­lance jour­nal­ist and arts previewer/​reviewer, as well as some­time play­wright based in Har­ris­burg, PA.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Fem­i­nist Press

1) What are the choic­es that Ros­ner and her hus­band face, as par­ents of a new­born deaf baby? 

2) What con­sid­er­a­tions would you find most com­pelling, if you were faced with such choices? 

3) How does Ros­ner’s explo­ration of deaf­ness go beyond the lit­er­al inabil­i­ty to hear? 

4)What role does imag­i­na­tion play for Ros­ner, as moth­er and author? 

5) How does the metaphor of string func­tion through­out the book? 

6) How does Ros­ner’s ances­tral back­sto­ry (in its real and imag­ined detail) func­tion in the con­tem­po­rary storyline? 

7) How much do you know about your ances­tors, and how does that knowl­edge func­tion in your lives?